Opinion

Bolton rude? Yes, but gutsy, too

Years ago, I interviewed a couple of times the man who unofficially held the title of the meanest boss in government, long before the Democrats hung it on John Bolton in trying to squelch his nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Bolton, it’s said, is or has been verbally abusive to subordinates and has a low opinion of the UN, at least the way it’s been run in recent years. His opponents are mainly those who think the UN should be running the world and want an ambassador who will kiss up to Kofi Annan, not ask him where all the money went.

Mean guys do get results. Bolton’s predecessor as meanest boss in government had a reputation of a cross between Simon Legree and Attila the Hun. Though he was a living legend in the Navy, the Navy hated him because of the way he treated his underlings and the way he achieved and used his power. You had to be an engineer with a fancy degree to be considered an asset by him. You could be smart as paint and work like a dog to earn his respect but you never got it unless you fit the mold. Going through his hiring procedures was like visiting hell.

Yes, you guessed it. Adm. Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear Navy. He was a little guy with a beak nose and a shock of white hair when I knew him. He reminded me of the eagles I see on Foulweather Bluff in Admiralty Inlet and could be as fierce, I was told.

A friend of mine who worked for him, sans engineering degree, told of a time a young man from the Naval Academy came in to interview for a job with him. Rickover asked him what he liked to do in his off time. The visitor said fish, hunt. You have a shallow outlook on life, Rickover told him, and showed him the door. Rickover, said my friend, was an “a------.”

Rickover traveled a lot inspecting nuclear premises, my friend said. “If he found a dirty spot in a reactor compartment, the next time he came around, he checked to see if it was still there.”

On one of Rickover’s visits to Bremerton for a dinner speech, advance word was he would arrive at 7, read a 45-minute speech, answer questions and leave without eating. Dinner could not be served until he was gone so he wouldn’t be disturbed by forks clanging on plates. He was late, pausing to talk with protestors. Once in, he lambasted the print press for “embellishing and sensationalizing” on the dangers of nuclear power and radiation just to sell newspapers.

Questions? He asked them and he answered them. When I asked him why he didn’t let the audience ask their questions, he said, “Saves a lot of trouble.”

One highly ranked civilian there said afterward, “I just wish he was as nice to people that work for him as he is to the press.” I didn’t think he was nice to us, I said. “You should see how nice he is to the people that work for him,” said the guest. Once, when a strike was threatened in Boston shipyard, Rickover said go ahead and I’ll fire the whole lot of you. They did, and he did.

Once, my then editor wrote something that ticked off the admiral who called him and said he had better be careful because he — Rickover — had a lot to say about the future workload of Bremerton’s main industry, the Navy Yard. The editor didn’t write about that exchange until Rickover’s death.

As I said, the Navy hated Rickover and was scared to death of him at the same time. Rickover stayed on in uniform well past retirement age, achieving promotions along the way by using the influence he cultivated with powerful senators such as Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson.

“But if it was not for him,” my friend said, “we wouldn’t be where we are today in nuclear power. He was a stickler for nuclear power. He built the Nautilus. He was the father of the nuclear Navy.”

I like to think that John Bolton, rude and arrogant though he may be, can have a hand in restoring the position of respect the UN once held because, like Rickover, he has guts and smarts, and if the Boxers and Kennedys and Dodds don’t want him, he must be one terrific guy.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, Wash., 98430.

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